Seattle Genetics Recruits at Warp Speed, Amgen Passes Cancer Test, Stephen Friend’s Adventure & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

8/13/09Follow @xconomy

Quite a few publicly traded biotechs released quarterly financial statements this week, but we arranged some fascinating conversations with entrepreneurs and researchers to offset the necessary number-crunching.

Seattle Genetics is having a breakout year, and one sure sign is that it has enrolled cancer patients in a clinical trial much faster than the industry norm. That was one big reason why the Bothell, WA-based biotech company (NASDAQ: SGEN) was able to sell 11 million new shares to investors this week, in an offering that raised a cool $118 million. Usually these offerings dilute the value of existing shares and drive down the stock price, but Seattle Genetics actually climbed 5 percent the following day.

Amgen has spent five years researching biomarkers that might provide clues as to which cancer patients will respond to a drug, and which won’t. Much of the “personalized medicine” work, performed at research centers in Seattle and Cambridge, MA, was validated last week in the first big prospective clinical that showed patients with a normal form of the KRAS gene were more likely to benefit from taking panitumuab (Vectibix) than those with a mutated form.

—I had a fascinating conversation this week with Bonnie Ramsey, one of the world leaders in research and treatment of cystic fibrosis. Ramsey, who’s affiliated with Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington, talked in great depth about the surprising extent to which research has improved the outlook for CF patients over the past 30 years, and the significance of an emerging treatment from Cambridge, MA-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX).

Stephen Friend is best known in Seattle as the founder of Rosetta Inpharmatics, and now he’s back in Seattle, dreaming big again. Friend described his vision, and progress during the early days, at the nonprofit genomics collaborative he’s leading called Sage Bionetworks.

—We published a couple of guest editorials this week that are of interest to biotechies. The first was from Jim Thomas, a vice president at Amgen in Seattle, on how he says lawmakers can provide a way for “biosimilars” to enter the marketplace without undermining incentives for companies like his to develop innovative new medicines. The next piece on national policy was from Ryo Kubota, CEO of Bothell, WA-based Acucela, who advised policymakers not to reform healthcare in any way that dampens the entrepreneurial spirit that makes America the best place for developing new drugs.

—Seattle-based Dendreon is starting to branch out across the U.S. map. The company (NASDAQ: DNDN) confirmed this week that it is planning to add two new manufacturing plants for its prostate cancer drug, sipuleucel-T (Provenge) in the greater Atlanta area, and in Orange County, CA. The company also reported that it had $287 million in cash and investments when the second quarter ended on June 30, helped along by a $227 million infusion it got from investors after Provenge passed its pivotal clinical trial in April.

AVI Biopharma, the RNA-based drug developer that’s moving its headquarters from Portland, OR, to Bothell, WA, said it ended the second quarter with $20 million in cash. AVI (NASDAQ: AVII) has been strengthening its financial position for months, and predicted that it will pull together more funding this year from governments and other sources.

—Seattle-based Oncothyreon (NASDAQ: ONTY) said it ended June with $22.7 million in cash, which—hold on here for a double-take—was actually $3.5 million more than it had at the beginning of the year. The company has fattened up its balance sheet with another $14 million through a stock offering this month, giving it more breathing room in its quest to develop cancer drugs.

—The financial prospects looked a lot dimmer this week for Seattle-based Targeted Genetics (NASDAQ: TGEN). The gene therapy stalwart, which has been warning of its possible demise since May, said this week that it “must raise additional capital” if it is going to remain in business beyond the end of this month.

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